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Hendricks and Ross Pursue a New Sound

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a few brief years in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross was the hottest group in jazz. In fact, a 1962 Columbia album underscored that fact with practically the same title: “The Hottest New Group in Jazz.” But Annie Ross left the trio in 1962, and the reconstituted ensemble, with singer Yolande Bavan, broke up two years later. Dave Lambert’s death in an auto accident in 1966 appeared to be the final chapter in the vocal group’s shooting star career.

Last year, however, 3 1/2 decades after Ross left L, H & R, she got back together with Jon Hendricks, this time in a duo setting. The combination worked well enough to trigger the start of a new round of vocalese. And on Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill, Hendricks and Ross were once again back in a familiar setting, opening a weeklong run at a prime-time jazz venue.

But what became immediately apparent in their first set was how important Lambert’s fluid sound and quirky manner had been to the trio. Although his vocal lines were generally assigned to, and well performed by Paul Meyers on guitar, it was hard to avoid the feeling that there was simply a missing presence on stage. The duo interaction between Hendricks and Ross was amiable enough, but lacking the more layered exchanges and interactions a trio encounter can produce.

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Perhaps recognizing that fact, Hendricks and Ross divided the set between ensemble numbers and a pair of solo outings for each singer. Ross was particularly effective with her tribute to the great names of jazz in her own “Music Is Forever.” But her rendering of her lyrics for the winding melody of “Farmer’s Market” was almost incomprehensible, lost either in her tendency to swallow portions of phrases, the failure of the sound system to accurately reproduce what she was singing--or both. Hendricks, who wrote the lyrics for the hit bossa nova “Desafinado,” showcased another Brazilian-styled original, but his soloing, as well, was hindered by murky projection of the lyrics.

The ensemble numbers, headlined by a surging version of “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” were delivered with the spirit and enthusiasm that characterized the early work of L, H & R. But here, too, many of Hendricks’ witty lyrics were lost in the mix.

Still, hearing these two veterans, still performing well, was a rare opportunity to hear jazz history in action. Assuming the problems were simply a hazard of opening night, Hendricks and Ross--ably supported by Meyers, pianist Peter Mihelich, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Andy Watson--should be providing some hard-swinging moments for the balance of the week.

* Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (323) 466-2210. $20 cover tonight at 8:30; $18 cover tonight at 10:30; $22 cover Friday, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.; $20 cover Friday, Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Two drink minimum.


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